Accepted paper:

Towards a social and cultural psychodynamics of infanticide: the spirit child in northern Ghana

Authors:

Aaron Denham (Macquarie University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the social and cultural psychodynamics of infanticide discourse and practice in Nankani communities, offering observations and theory that traverse the vicissitudes of social structure, symbolic expression, and the psychodynamics of subjective experience.

Paper long abstract:

Within a rural District in Northern Ghana, community members describe how disabled or chronically ill children, births concurrent with tragic events, or children displaying unusual abilities are "spirit children" sent from the bush to cause misfortune and destroy the family. Upon identification, some spirit children are given a poisonous concoction by family members and die. Too often infanticide accounts offer experience-distant interpretations and theories that fit only economic and sociobiological models, rarely considering the perspectives of family members and their complex decision-making processes. Based upon ethnographic research within Nankani communities, this paper considers the social and cultural psychodynamics of infanticide discourse and practice, offering observations and theory that traverse the vicissitudes of social structure, symbolic expression, and the psychodynamics of subjective experience. Ultimately, while reflecting on the infrequently considered dynamics that mediate Nankani experiences of and responses to childhood abnormality and family misfortune, this paper offers alternative frameworks for thinking about infanticide decision-making and practice.

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Uncertain beginnings: rethinking infanticide and end of life decision-making in infants